Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Muppet Christmas Carol

I started writing this post, or something a lot like it, last year, but I deleted it entirely by March, as by then it was no longer topical. I suppose I’d better post this one now, lest it suffer the same fate. Christmas is over, but it’s still the holiday season, so let’s see if I can get this out before the new year.

I generally don’t like Christmas movies. (Some smartass usually makes some quip about Die Hard when this topic comes up, but we’re going to ignore that for the purposes of this piece.) I love Love Actually, actually, but the Christmas movie I treasure above all others is The Muppet Christmas Carol.

There’s no reason at all that it should work. It’s absurd on its face, yet somehow everything contributes to the whole. A friend sent me a link to a look behind the scenes and it confirms what I’ve always thought, that the movie works so well because Michael Caine plays it absolutely straight.

“I’m going to play this movie like I’m working with the Royal Shakespeare Company. I will never wink, I will never do anything Muppety. I am going to play Scrooge as if it is an utterly dramatic role and there are no puppets around me.”
It’s him, but it’s not just him. There many other decisions where the absolute best choice was made, and the whole thing fits together as tightly as pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

(It also doesn’t hurt that the story itself is one of the most enduring tales of the past two hundred years. The thing about a Christmas Carol is that, like anything that’s been around for a long time, we forget how powerful a work it is. I’m a sucker for a good story of redemption and maybe one day I’ll be featured in my own, and this is the archetype, the Ur-example that laid down the framework for all that would follow.)

The framing mechanism of Gonzo as Charles Dickens also works really well, and it wouldn’t work without Rizzo. Having them during the visit from final spirit was an inspired decision as well.

The casting of Statler and Waldorf as the Marleys was brilliant.

That cracks me up every time.
They include the aging over the course of the day of of the Ghost of Christmas Present, which is something a lot of adaptations omit, but which I think is a fundamental part of the character.

The music is brilliant.

Using new creations for the ghosts instead of going with established Muppets was absolutely the perfect call.

And, finally, the scene with Kermit as Bob Cratchet, explaining to his children the loss of their brother. It’s astounding how a thing stitched together of cloth and foam can radiate such sorrow and loss.

I picked a spot for Tim where he can see...It-It's a spot on the hill...and you can see the ducks on the river.
Tiny Tim...
Tiny Tim always loved...watching the ducks on the river.

It's all right, children. Life is made up of meetings and partings. That is the way of it. I am sure that we shall never forget Tiny Tim, or this first parting that there was among us.
Christ, that’s just heartbreaking.

And I'm sure you know the rest. Scrooge wakes up and learns it's not too late to change.

He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Donald Got Run Over by a Reindeer

Reposted with permission, from a family member much more talented than I:

To the tune of Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer

Donald got run over by a reindeer,
Walking from a rally Christmas Eve,
You can say there's no such thing as Santa,
But as for me and Sanders, we believe

He'd been hating on the Muslims,
Saying they all would have to go,
Took a parting shot at Clinton
As he swaggered off the stage into the snow

When Fox posted Christmas morning,
From the scene of the attack,
Christie shouted, “Merry Christmas!”,
And Jeb tweeted “Trump got trampled. Bush is back!”

Donald got run over by a reindeer,
Walking from a rally Christmas Eve,
You can say there's no such thing as Santa,
But as for me and Sanders, we believe

Now we're all so proud of Marco,
And Cruz has taken this so well,
See them talking economics,
Debating ISIS while The Donald burns in hell.

It’s so boring without Donald,
All the Hopefuls dressed in black
And we just can’t help but wonder:
Who will Santa nail next when he comes back???
Donald got run over by a reindeer,

Walking home from a rally Christmas Eve,
You can say there's no such thing as Santa,
But as for me and Sanders, we believe.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Single Sentence Doctor Who Review: Shield of the Jötunn

You can kill a man, destroy his body, break his spirit, but only Big Finish's American accents can annihilate a man's soul.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Revenant: A Hugh Glass movie!

Hey, a movie about Hugh Glass! Why did no one tell of this?! It's close enough to Zelaznian for the purposes of this blog. I'd better get to seeing it.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Jessica Jones and the Case of the Karma Chameleon

Jessica Jones is the story of a psychotic narcissist, who sees other people as nothing more than tools or obstacles, and, through dint of superhuman abilities, manipulates or intimidates innocent victims into terrified compliance.

(Also, the Purple Man is in it too.)

Jessica Jones is kind of a horrible person.

The story works well as a metaphor for overcoming an abusive relationship. Unfortunately, it only works on that level. Even if you take the allegory away from the Narnia, you have a story about a talking lion and some kids. Jessica Jones is just a garbled mess as a narrative.

Stuff I liked:

Episode One was taut and tense and compelling, and the best hour of TV I’ve seen in years.

Luke Cage:  Sweet Christmas, he was great. He’s oozes charisma, he’s used in moderation, he’s interesting and sympathetic.

Trish: What a Hellcat! She gave a superb performance. She was best when she was her own person and not acting like an off-brand wannabe Jessica Jones.

Stuff I didn’t like:

Jessica: As a rule, I like shows with female protagonists.

I was hoping for Season One Veronica Mars.

I got Season Six Buffy.

Remember what I said about Luke Cage. Jessica is the opposite of all that.

I tend not to like anti-heroes anyway, but I stuck with Breaking Bad to the end, because it was interesting.  I don’t want to diminish the trauma suffered by the real-life survivors of abuse on whom Jessica is based, but this is a story that’s designed primarily to entertain and I found the lead neither interesting nor sympathetic.

"For thirty years you dreamt you were a hero, and condoned a thousand petty lapses--because a hero, of course, can do no wrong."

David Tennant: He’s part of the problem. I was nervous about watching the show, because I knew the subject matter. I had heard it had been toned down for TV, so tentatively, we began watching.

At least he was interesting, but I have mixed feelings about liking him more than Jessica. As a character, I mean. They’re both reprehensible, but at least he’s interesting when he’s on the screen. And I think that might actually be an interesting and possibly legitimate choice. It’s easy to sympathize with the charming rapist, and just as easy to ignore the words of his victim if she’s not as articulate or somehow marginalized. That’s a great message for a public service announcement, but a lousy choice for entertainment.

I’m not sure where they were going in trying to make him sympathetic halfway through the series. Probably because abusers often suffered abuse of their own in the past? It didn’t work, because the first impression we have is him compelling Hope to murder her parents, just to send a message to Jessica. Regardless of what happened twenty years in the past, you own that murder, dude.

The show can never decide if he’s a master manipulator even without his powers, or a ten year old boy who never had to grow up. The answer is, he’s neither. He’s an abusive ex-boyfriend with superpowers, and there’s nothing more to him than that. The dichotomy works within the context of the allegory, but it collapses if you want to look at it in any other way. (And when did he learn how to read lips?)

Kilgrave’s name: “Kilgrave” sounds like a name. It sounds like some Eastern European name anglicized at Ellis Island. It’s unusual, but I didn’t think it was fictional. (Notably, more people in America have Kilgrave as a last name than have mine.) The characters on the show find it so unbelievable that they dismiss out of hand any possibility that it might be real. Also, they use the same joke twice.

It’s not as funny as you think it is, and it doesn’t even make sense. Corpse and carcass aren’t synonyms with grave!

Will: I liked Will (and didn’t figure out who he was until they showed us the pills), but he existed only to serve the allegory as a different take on an abusive ex-boyfriend. But Will has a goddamned point. Kill Kilgrave when you have the chance! Only Hamlet is allowed to dither this much when planning a murder. Jessica was carrying around that syringe as early as episode two, as part of her ridiculous Rube Goldberg torture room plan. She should have been hefting a cinder block, and thrown it through the window when she saw Kilgrave for the first time. It would have saved a lot of innocent people, depending on when she got wise, Ruben, Hogarth’s wife Wendy, the next door neighbor and Will’s buddies, the courier, the guys in the penthouse, Kilgrave’s mom, Kilgrave’s dad, those he ordered to die if he didn’t return, presumably many others.  Hope would still be in prison, but she’d still be alive.

I could also have done without Trish’s “He was a good man, once” defense at the end. I get it, TV show.You don’t need to spell it out for me. Teeth had a more favorable opinion of men than this show.

Hogarth: Oh, I loved Carrie-Anne Moss in this role. At first. The show doesn’t trust us to figure out anything on our own, so she heavily foreshadows her heel turn by speculating about all the things she could do with Kilgrave’s power. Jessica sputters in righteous indignation. (She cares because she was personally wronged.) Later, of course, she gets her comeuppance, as do all who question Jessica.

Hogarth was interesting. Her character is very opaque, and as a viewer, you never know what's going on inside her head. Jessica is also inscrutable, but I didn’t get that impression of inner life. But when Pam asks her why she was at Wendy’s (after Kilgrave commanded her to take him to someone she trusts), she doesn’t tell the obvious lie (“He told me take him to a doctor and Wendy was nearby”), instead, simply floundering like a goldfish outside of its bowl.

Malcolm: I hate Malcolm so much.

He’s a convenient eunuch who only exists to tell everyone how great Jessica is, because it looks like bragging if she does it herself. (Still, you can see her lips moving when he’s talking.)

How to cure a junkie.

Handcuff him to a toilet overnight.

"Bless you, Jessica Jones!"

Fortunately for Malcolm (but unfortunately for the viewing audience), they have another secondary black character so that Malcolm can live, but Marvel doesn’t have to forgo its policy of killing a black dude to give the white characters a little extra motivation. (RIP, Ben Urich)

The Narrative:

Comic Vine called Jessica “A brilliant PI who is always two steps ahead of Kilgrave” but she couldn’t figure out her own neighbor was tailing her for weeks? Didn’t think to look in Hope’s purse?  I don’t think she’s a terrible detective, but there is no evidence to suggest she’s brilliant, either. I just hate this kind of fanboy bullshit.  “I love this character, so she has to be the best.” My impression is that she’s good enough to make a living at it, and that she leans heavily on her powers. Not that that’s necessarily a dig.  You use what you’ve got, and she’s got perseverance and a willingness to do the legwork on top of that.

(On a side note, while I love the character, I don’t think Veronica Mars was especially brilliant either. She was as successful as she was because she was underestimated because of her age, or she was plying her skills against other teenagers, who don’t have as much experience as adults. But she leveraged what she had to make it work. Usually. )

The protagonist-centered morality:  I really do hate protagonist-centered morality. Everyone’s virtue neatly corresponds to how much they like Jessica.

Trust me, I’m a PC: The virtue of other characters can easily be measured by how readily they trust Jessica. Night Nurse, I’m looking at you. Those cops three feet away are looking for you? Sure, I’ll help you escape, person I just met.

A subset of this is how characters friendly to the protagonists readily accept the reality of mind control, saying, in suspiciously similar phrasing, that hey, aliens/invulnerable skin exist, so why not mind control. I think the implication of the similar phrasing is that this only conclusion a reasonable person can reach, that if one impossible thing exists, all impossible things must exist. Any other response is just being arbitrarily skeptical or obstinate.

I don’t think the conclusion is self-evident. It’s reasonable to consider the possibility, but accepting it unconditionally is just as ridiculous as dismissing it out of hand.  It’s a minor thing, but I found it very annoying.

The dialogue:

“Go to hell.” “Already been there…”

No. Never say that again. That is the worst, most boring, predictable line, and it’s delivered badly. That’s like plagiarism on an academic paper. It’s an immediate failing grade right there.

At this point I was extending the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they were going something very subtle here, and maybe the tough gal act was supposed to seem unconvincing, because her experiences had left her an empty shell and her bravado was a façade painted blood bright over rotten wood.

As I watched more, I rejected that hypothesis. Krysten Ritter is just kind of a lousy actor, and the dialogue is occasionally just atrocious.

Also, when the real housewife of New York City blames Jessica for getting her mom killed in the Chitauri invasion, she calls Jessica a freak. I wanted to insert a supercut of every time someone calls a superhero a freak, but, while I’m certain such a thing exists, because it’s such a lazy cliché that pops up in every movie, I was unable to find it. So here’s a screenshot.

What takes the cake is the scene in the diner. It's the worst kind of too clever by half bullshit that sounds like it was written at a You Too can write like Joss Whedon weekend workshop

I'm furious that you lied to me and covered up my brother's murder...but not so mad that I can't engage in a twee little bit of wordplay

It’s all about me: At one point, when Jessica is giving Malcolm his tough love detox, she tells him “He did this to you to get at me.”

That’s accurate in the context of the story, but man, it’s the dream of every narcissist to have it be true when she says it really is all about her. Characters in a story don’t make choices, the author makes choices for them. The creators of the show contrive to put them in a situation, so that they can tell the story they want to tell.  The authors here have conspired to give us a story where their glib, boring, unlikable anti-hero is the only one that matters. (It’s also worth noting that almost every major failure comes from another character not doing what she says. Jessica Jones can never fail; she can only be failed.)

The story is contrived so that she must always have the moral high ground. 

I guess I'll make the observation, because no one on the show will, that Jessica and Hogarth each sought to keep Kilgrave alive so they could manipulate him to serve their own ends. Jessica's goals are more altruistic than Hogarth's, but that doesn't change the fact that they're doing exactly the same thing.

There are little things I hate too. Like when Jessica sarcastically thanks Kilgrave’s father for correcting her phrasing (she said Kilgrave ordered the man to kill himself, whereas he tells her that he was compelled to cut his heart out). The thing is, not five minutes earlier, she exploited a loophole in the command given to Trish, who was ordered to put a bullet in her head. Jessica put a bullet in her mouth and satisfied the compulsion.

Sanctimony and hypocrisy, two great tastes that taste great together
And finally, let’s look at the end. It features a lot of what I hate about the show. Anyone facing Jessica experiences a precipitous drop in competence.

Her plan was put together with an attention to detail you'd expect from the underpants gnomes, a million moving parts and a structure that make it collapse if any one item outside her control occurs. These include:
  • Kilgrave’s updgraded powers function in a fashion differently than she assumes they do
  • Someone shoots Trish, who is completely exposed
  • Trish becomes compromised
  • Trish is taken as a hostage (Not quite sure why Trish is part of this plan, frankly)
  • Kilgrave brings a set of bodyguards comparable to the forces he’s fielded every time he’s expected opposition
  • Kilgrave issues contingency commands to his puppets comparable to the ones he’s issued in every previous encounter
  • Kilgrave actually thinks to test his control (“Kill this guy, would you?”) before walking right up to Jessica so she can murder him.
But it all comes together, exactly as planned  and I’m reminded of what Pixar story artist Emma Coats wrote: "Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating."

In the end, Jessica kills Kilgrave. I’m sure it’s cathartic, but under New York law, it’s also first degree murder, as it was preceded by torture. I’m not even saying it was a bad decision. If anyone was too dangerous to live, it was Kilgrave.

It would have better for Hope, Wendy, Ruben et al, had she come to this conclusion somewhat earlier. For Will, too, come to think of it.

The story that would come to define my tastes as an adult was noir, though I didn’t know the word at the time. Jessica Jones uses the trappings of noir, but doesn’t embrace the spirit, where victories are temporary and bittersweet. Nothing illustrates this better than the scene following the murder, when Hogarth, appropriately humbled and back in the fold, and thus, competent again, rope-a-dopes the prosecutor with a torrent of extremely weak flim-flam.  I think I would have been able to accept the show as a flawed, but well-intentioned effort, if not for this.

Is it a bad show, or something I just don’t like?

I’m usually good about making the distinction, but I really don’t know. It seems that the dialogue is more reliant on clichés than is strictly necessary. The metaphors are not subtle. I don’t think Kristen Ritter gave a good performance, but many other people did, though I’m sure at least some of them made the Comics Vine mistake of liking the character and believing the actor gave a good performance. Figure what I consider its failings are 30% things that could be improved and 70% things I just don't like.

How would I fix it?

Fix the dialogue: Get a script doctor to tighten up the writing and get rid of the clichés.

Smarter writing: Kilgrave just gets dumber as the series progresses. A smarter adversary is much scarier, so write him as someone who has been using these powers for years, and knows how to get the most out of them.

Tone down the allegory:  I sense this is a feature, not a bug for the creators of the program, but not everything needs to serve the metaphor.

Chuck the childhood sympathy arc: We know better by they time they get around to this. It doesn’t work in the aftermath of the first episode, and that episode is too good to lose.

Fixing Jessica: You can call her an anti-hero, a Byronic hero or what-have-you, but she’s an asshole. People want to be able to cheer for the assholes. You need look no further than Donald Trump  for proof. A lot of people like seeing someone who is rude being subjected to some sort of disproportionate revenge, but I don’t dig that. If Jessica rips off the arms of the guy who cut you off in traffic, he’s the underdog there, and my sympathy switches to him.

I said at the beginning of the post that I didn’t find Jessica interesting or sympathetic. I could cheer for her if she were likable and boring, and I could cheer for her if she were unlikable but interesting. Obviously, you want to go with the latter, here.  I think that means replacing Ritter with a better actor.

Make the morality less centered on Jessica: Give us characters who have legitimate disagreement on substantive grounds, not straw men. Give us good people who don’t like Jessica.

Finally, let Jessica own her mistakes: Have someone point out that her dad would still be alive if Hope’s freedom hadn’t meant more to Jessica.She went down like a punk when the therapy group stormed her place, and I knew exactly why. The writers had to once again contrive to a scenario where Jessica was not to blame for Kilgrave’s escape. Let’s see her alcoholism played for something other than laughs. Let her mess up, and deal with the consequences for once.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Roger Zelazny Crossword Puzzle

Submitted for your approval, the best Roger Zelazny crossword puzzle on the Internet.

Link to a version solvable in your browser here.

The Clues! (Some are harder than others)


6. This story had some dolphins in it
7. Pen name once used by Zelazny
8. Protagonist in Mana from Heaven
10. Shadowjack's only friend
11. Monastic assassin in Roadmarks
12. Bester novel completed by Zelazny
13. Red’s last name in Roadmarks
14. Zelazny held a black belt in this martial art
17. Zelazny's sentient home computer
20. Title to the unwritten third book in the Changeling series
22. Latin Advice Snuff receives in the Dreamlands
23. Protagonist of 24 Views of Mt. Fuji, by Hokusai
26. "The ________________ are never defeated," said Kubera, and the girl picked up the block and stared at it for a long time before she named it.
28. Poe inspired collaboration with Fred Saberhagen The _____ Throne
30. Telefactor robot from Home is the _________________
31. Last name of the doctor in He Who Shapes
32. Poem from which a Night in the Lonesome October takes its name
33. City where Roger Zelazny was born
34. Coral’s relationship to Merlin
38. The play that was the subject of Zelazny’s Master Thesis The ___________ Tragedy
41. Protagonist of the Dead Man's Brother
42. The Key That Was Lost
43. Name of Dilvish’s horse
47. Deadboy Donner was written in the style of this author
49. Where Francis Sandow had hung his worlds
51. The Lord of Bats' place of Power
53. The Revenger's Tragedy in spaaaaaaaace! Nine __________ Waiting
54. Part of Rastov's body where Quicklime dwelled
55. Spiritual successor to the Amber Diceless RPG: Lords of _________ and Shadow
56. Nickname for Ichthyform Leviosaurus Levianthus
57. Zelazny's version of "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge"


1. Death in Donnerjack “All ___________ is but an imitation of my ways.”
2. Artist in Bridge of Ashes
3. Zelazny’s Berserker story ____________ surprised
4. Zelazny's collaborator on Come to me not in Winter's White
5. Demon bound by Baran of the Extra Hand
9. He beats up Gerard in the 4th Amber book
10. The tool Dara wished to use to seize the throne of Chaos
15. This book is about a flare
16. Second Millennial Contest book If at ____ you don’t succeed
18. The creator of the Great Pattern of Amber
19. Corwin’s colors were silver and
21. Zelazny’s first Wild Cards story The __________
24. How Karagee preferred to be addressed
25. Part of the anatomy in which Merlin's head was often stuck
27. The names of the clones in Today we Choose Faces are either references to Black or
29. A steep-sided gully cut by running water in an arid or semiarid region
35. George R.R. Martin adapted this story for television: The Last Defender of ______
36. Murdock's carefree Swinger sedan
37. Zelazny won his final Hugo for this story
39. Video game adapted from what began as a Francis Sandow story
40. Story in which a man lives life backwards
41. Month when the senator was to be assassinated in He Who Shapes
44. The name of Great-Souled Sam that fits in these tiles
45. First name of Jan Michael Vincent’s character in Damnation Alley
46. Counterpart to the Pattern
48. Tribute Anthology for Zelazny, Lord of the
50. The Courts of _______
52. From Wilderness “The _____ soared”
53. The true Buddha in Lord of Light

Friday, December 4, 2015

Boo, Blogger!

I'm not sure why the recent comments and the site search no longer work, but I'm working on fixing them.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thank you for being a friend: Teen Titans Go edition

All right.

In the latest episode of Teen Titans Go, Cyborg comes into possession of a Green Lantern ring, which he uses to create facsimiles of the Golden Girls

Well, of three of the Golden Girls. Where's Sophia?!

This is some Golden Palace level of bullshit right there.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Pray for Paris: An open letter about Syrian Refugees

A person I like and respect shared this post.

I disagree with this post strongly.

To speak more clearly, this post is grotesque. It's abhorrent. It's un-American. It is inhuman.

Let's take it by paragraph.

Katie Jones
November 16 at 8:38pm · Edited · 
Katie Jones: I am seeing lots of posts in favor of allowing the Syrian refugees to enter our country. I commend my friends on their desires to be kind and welcoming to all, but I'd like to pose a couple questions to you: Do you welcome every homeless person you encounter into your home for an unspecified amount of time? Do you stop and pick up every hitchhiker you pass on the highway and bring him/her into your home?

These are loaded questions.  They presuppose a number of things that are simply untrue. You might as well ask me if I’ve stopped beating my wife yet.

The answer, of course is that that the screening progress for refuges is already incredibly long and arduous.

From the Economist: Refugees apply for resettlement at American embassies or through the United Nations. If they pass that first hurdle, they are screened by outposts of the Department of State all over the world. They undergo investigations of their biography and identity; FBI biometric checks of their fingerprints and photographs; in-person interviews by Department of Homeland Security officers; medical screenings as well as investigations by the National Counter-terrorism Centre and by American and international intelligence agencies. The process may take as long as three years, sometimes longer. No other person entering America is subjected to such a level of scrutiny.

I would conclude that other people have already raised this point, because in one of your updates you say “who just want to be protected to the best of our nation's ability from those who wish to harm us. Searching databases for records that do not exist in order to determine whether a person is a threat or not is not the best of our nation's ability.” You dismiss this rather glibly. The rebuttal is that such screens would not have stopped the Paris attackers, either, who had only a history of petty crime prior to their perpetration of the massacre.
Katie Jones:  I am going to go out on a limb and say that you answered both of those questions no. I will guess that your reasoning behind that is because your parents taught you not to. And because you don't know these people, their mental state, or their possible criminal backgrounds. And because it's just not a safe thing to do. This does not make you a bad person. This does not make you xenophobic. This does not make you racist, a bigot or an elitist. This does not mean you are throwing your values and morals aside. It only means that you know there are other ways to help these people while still maintaining your personal safety and the safety of your family. For example, donating to cause specific charities or volunteering at a shelter.
I’ve addressed the first part of the question, that refugees face unparalleled levels of scrutiny compared to anyone else entering the country, so we do have a pretty good idea of who they are. I think most people would take in a guest they know quite well if that person had nowhere to go.

I don’t know you personally, so I can’t say if you’re xenophobic, or a racist or a bigot. I can say after reading what you have written here that what you are advocating makes you sound like a bad person.

What you’re proposing is counterproductive. It is exactly what the real terrorists want. It will make us less safe.They want us weak and afraid. They want their tiny and temporary fiefdom to be seen as a refuge, and when we turn away these displaced women and children, those refugees don’t have a lot of options and may well wind up back where they came from. It shows the victims that they’re helpless, and it’s a recruiting bonanza for the terrorists.
Katie Jones:  Lashing out at individuals who do not support the entrance of Syrian refugees into our country is basically telling us, your countrymen, friends and family, that you value their lives and safety over ours. And that is what I don't understand. Will you only care about us after an attack? Is that what it will take to prove to you that this isn't safe? Do you think it is impossible to help these people without bringing them across our borders?
It doesn't make it impossible to help them if we "pause"the admission process, but it certainly complicates a process that’s already extremely complicated, and it makes life more difficult for those who have already suffered profoundly.

I’m reluctant to make comparisons to the Nazis, because that tends to undermine the seriousness of an argument. But as no less an authority than the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum drew the same parallels, so I feel it apt.

 I learned about a man named Dave Gushee on Fred Clark’s blog. Gushee wrote a dissertation that was later expanded into a book called Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust .  In it, he explored why it was that some people, at great personal risk, helped their Jewish neighbors in Nazi-occupied Europe while the majority did not. Much of the study involves what he calls "boundaries of moral obligation." One such boundary, for many, was the fear of putting one's own family at risk in order to rescue a neighbor or a stranger from certain death. Many of those who remained bystanders did so due to a kind of "pro-family" ethic. They allowed a legitimate priority of moral obligation to become an illegitimate boundary of moral obligation.

This is my daughter. I love her more than anything else in the world, and I would do anything in the world to protect her. Do you see the shirt she’s wearing? She made it herself. It reads “Pray for Paris”, and it has flowers and a dove and a rising sun. We went to a vigil for those killed in the Paris attacks on Saturday, and she was deeply moved and wanted to do something. She wore it to school yesterday. What will be the effect of it? Probably nothing. She’ll feel better. But she’s doing more than you are, because she’s not rationalizing the bigotry, racism or xenophobia of those people who want to turn the refugees away.
Katie Jones:  I'd also like to share that I have not, by any means, been manipulated into my fear of this situation. This is not an imaginary threat created to gain public support of a political agenda. My fear is of terrorists who want nothing more from their life than to kill me and everyone one of you simply because we are Americans. Our blood is their greatest achievement and they will seek out that achievement by any means necessary. For example, posing as an innocent refugee seeking safety, just as one did to gain entrance to France in order to carry out the horrific Paris attacks. I will not allow you to shame me or anyone else who shares this fear and I'm greatly insulted by those who label my fear as anything else.
I absolutely believe that you’re afraid. But I don’t believe your fear is legitimate, and I do believe that you have been manipulated into it. To put it into the parlance of the intelligence community, their desire to kill you is more aspirational than operational, meaning they want to kill you, but the barriers preventing that are insurmountable to them.

Even if your fear were rational, making decisions based on fear, and apparently, nothing else, is a terrible way to live your life, and is monstrous way to go about crafting policy. It is the worst kind of cowardice, the kind that masquerades as conviction.
Katie Jones:  I care about each of you. I don't want to see any of you harmed in any way and I would do whatever I could to prevent that harm from happening. That includes asking and expecting our President to find a way to provide aid to Syrian refugees without exposing us to the evil of these terrorists.
Woah, woah, woah. How did we get from refugee to terrorists inside the same sentence?
Katie Jones:  Anyone who wishes to share this may do so. I'm not normally this politically outspoken, and to be honest, I was scared to voice my opinion tonight. But I encourage everyone to push past that fear and respectfully and kindly share their opinions and thoughts about this - because what's even scarier is what might happen if we don't.

No. I can’t respect the ignorance and cowardice that informed your post. You are wrong about everything you have written here.

Katie Jones:  To those who disagree: I kindly ask you to hold our elected officials to higher standards. We are blessed with the freedom and right to demand that they try harder. What harm can be done by demanding that in light of recent events, they reevaluate their plans and adjust accordingly? There has to be a safer way to help the refugees. I do not claim to know the answer, but then again, it's not my job to know the answer. That's their job. And it's not just their job, it's their duty. I hope you remember that.
I do hold them to higher standards. Higher than this. I will not ask my country to burn the innocent so that they may reach the guilty. If the United States takes the actions you suggest, innocent people are going to die, not so you can be more secure, but so you can feel like you are.
Katie Jones:  UPDATE 11/16 @ 11:39 PM CST: I never imagined this post would spread the way it has. I get a little braver with every like and share, and I hope you do too. Don't be ashamed for valuing our safety. Thank you for all your kind words and support!
UPDATE 11/17 @ 6:21 PM CST: Currently at 1,412 shares! I was floored when a few friends asked if they could share this, so I can't even begin to describe how shocked I am now! I am honored that so many of you have chosen to share my voice and stand with me on this issue. Before posting this, I felt slightly alone in my thoughts on this subject and even began to feel helpless in a way. Those feelings are long gone now thanks to the overwhelming support of each of you. Please remember to be kind and respectful to those with opposing views. I believe they care for us just as we care for them. No good will come from making enemies of each other. United we stand and divided we fall. Finally, I'd like to address the fact that I have been accused of hating Muslims and of being afraid of Islam. I assure you I am neither of these things. My love is for all people, from all nations, of all religions, of all genders and all ages. I do not assume all refugees are terrorists, and I don't believe anyone who shares this post assumes that either. There is a vast difference between wanting to stop an opportunity for terrorists to kill Americans and hating and discriminating against an entire religious following. I hope you begin to see us for what we really are - honest, hardworking, loving Americans who just want to be protected to the best of our nation's ability from those who wish to harm us. Searching databases for records that do not exist in order to determine whether a person is a threat or not is not the best of our nation's ability. 
UPDATE 11/18 @ 2:45 PM CST: I'm SPEECHLESS! I'm not sure why Facebook isn't showing anyone other than myself the total number of times this has been shared, but it shows me that it's currently been shared 9,678 TIMES! Thank you everyone for standing behind me! This is truly a humbling experience!
What do you think the odds are that you’ll be personally impacted by the actions of a terrorist? Keep in mind, almost all terrorism against Americans is domestic, our Timothy McVeighs.

By year, the number of  Americans killed by terrorism is usually in the low double digits. In good years, it falls to single digits. (In 2011, it was eight). You’re more likely to be struck by lightning than killed by a terrorist. In the United States, we have a population of about a third of a billion people. The odds of being killed by a terrorist are 0.0000303% .Even in 2001, it was only 0.00140%.

 By comparison, the United Nations estimates more than a quarter million dead,  4 million registered and 1 million unregistered refugees abroad and 7 million internally displaced.

Earlier in the post, I pointed out the difference between a legitimate priority of moral obligation and an illegitimate boundary of moral obligation. You want to protect your loved ones. Of course you do. Everyone does. Calling to reject the refugees will not protect your family. But even if it did, it would not be the right thing to do, because any possible threat to your family represented by these refugees is infinitesimally tiny compared to the real and legitimate threat facing the refugees themselves.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Big Finish Audio Drama Capsule Reviews: Assassin in the Limelight, Criss Cross, Rat Trap

Assassin in the Limelight: I really enjoyed the Robert Knox mini-arc. Knox buys a bootleg TARDIS (a Type 70, compared to the Doctor's Type 40) and tries grifting his way through history.

This was a fun little episode. In the CD extras, the creators and performers are all unaccountably proud of their knowledge of American history, and their American accents. Lincoln's assassination is one of the most influential events in the history of the nation, and, as usual, no one involved with Big Finish can even approximate any kind of convincing American accent. Not that I don't like the story. I quite do. These just seemed to be odd things to be crowing about.

John Wilkes Booth is reading for “Oscar Wilde” (Knox uses the aliases of actual figures of the day) he's to assassinate Lincoln. The Doctor interrupts his rehearsal, Booth complains and the Doctor is like ”Busy day ahead?”

It had great lines like "Lincoln's Lonely hearts club band"

It’s a small thing, but I liked the differences of the CIA’s credo “The story changes, but the ending stays the same” to the fixed points in time of the new series, which always struck me as such a lazy device.

Rating: 4/5

Criss-Cross: Criss-Cross was pretty great too. It introduces Constance Clark. As Clark Kent, Bruce Banner or Peter Parker would tell you, alliterative names are the best. Each Doctor has a companion that brings out their best. For Six it was Evelyn. Maggie Stables is sadly no longer with us, and while Constance Clark fills the same role of an older, confident companion not afraid to speak her mind. She’s not a carbon copy, and frankly I think it would be offensive to Maggie’s memory if she were, but she hits enough of the same notes to evoke her. As I’ve said before, I’m happy with any character who’s not an ingénue from modern London, (Yes, Flip, I’m looking at you) and a WWII codebreaker is quite distinctive. (Now we just need to introduce her to Elizabeth Klein…)

Miranda Raison can’t do an American accent to save her life, but she’s fine with her natural accent (or something close to it). Also, I like the turn of phrase she used to describe the character “Brave, but without being annoying spiffy-spunky."

Doctor Who’s science is usually garbage, but this one actually had some heft. A plot point hinged on the fact that radio waves don’t travel well under water. It was a solid story in its own right, and a great Launchpad for a new companion.

Rating: 4/5

Rat trap (or Doctor Who and the rats of Nihm): This is a decent 5th Doctor story. He comes off looking decent, even though he doesn’t get a huge amount of time on stage. Hmmm...I see that I've used "decent" twice in a row, but that's the kind of tepid praise it inspires.

I think the big problem with the script is how literal everything is. The rats make human captives run in an oversized hamster wheel. That's a bit too on the nose for me.

Also, the Mara is probably the most interesting thing about Tegan, but man, can they go at least one story without mentioning it?

Rating: 2/5

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Sky High: What a way to make a livin'

I don't think I'm unusual in having high hopes for a new campaign. It will be one for the history books, the campaign talked about in local role-playing circles for generations.

It’s going to be big and epic and serious.

And yet, they all turn into this.

We played this one a good month ago, but I didn’t get around to writing this out until just this morning.

To recap, Doctor Mordred was solidifying his control, the heroes still needed two components to repair the crashed Ewok ship and Summer had a big secret that was troubling her.

Asami told Zod and Amy that they would need to go undercover in one of Tony Stark’s factories, as part of a work study program with her company. Unfortunately the uniforms came in the wrong sizes, so Amy would have to disguise herself as a guy and Zod had to disguise himself as a woman.

Zod’s player is something of an Anglophile, so he had no problem with this ruse.

They had a strategy session in Zod’s bedroom with Raven. Zod’s player said the room was more or less decorated like I expected it. It was lit by black lights and had posters of Star Wars (original trilogy only), Mass Effect, the Baroness from GI Joe, Lex Luthor, Lois Lane and a Korra poster autographed by Janet Varney, who played Korra in the film adaptation of her real life adventures. It was signed: To Zod – Rock on in the spirit world. JV)

His pets includes monitor lizards, geckos, bunnies and tarantulas.

The meeting was going fine until Zod’s mother entered the room and saw “that brazen strumpet!” (Raven) leading her son astray. She kicked Raven out of the house and began wailing and wondering where she went wrong. She showed him an afterschool special to illustrate what would happen if he didn't get his life on track.

Amy went home to her aunt " Gertina “Gertie" Girthy, who was gaining weight. Amy suspected that she was returning to underground Sumo Wrestling again. (I'm not sure what Lily was going for there).

Asami sent a limo to drive our heroes to the plant. They had their initial interview. Amy took the role of “Bo Joshlemann” and was a hyperactive pest.

Zod was Olga Helmut, and Tony Stark was instantly smitten with her, and Pepper Potts was just as instantly jealous.

They went out on the floor and devised a plan to get the material they would need to repair the ship. It didn’t hurt that Tony was hopelessly smitten with Olga, and gave her the run of the place. Further aiding the heroes was the fact that Tony liked his giggle juice.

They got the materials out, and Tony was too busy barfing into his Iron Man helmet to notice. It turned out that the AI in the plant supplied the third component, so they were ready to repair the ship.

Then Summer dropped the bombshell. She had learned from her sister that Dr. M planned to release their parents from their exile in another dimension so they might serve as his minions. Winter might be a jerk, but her parents were dyed in the wool, murderous supervillains. Summer wasn’t sure what the right thing was. Complicating things for Amy was the fact that her parents were swept away by the same event, and would probably be set free if the villains were released. We close with Amy wondering what to do.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

A Day in the Lonesome October-fest, October 31 and Conclusion

The continuing account of reading A Night in the Lonesome October with an nine-year-old, out loud and during the day.

October 31

This was it. Lily was really nervous about Lynette's fate. She didn't really have any commentary until the ritual was already underway, and then she was the audience every author wants, gasping and cheering at all the right times.

Cheer Moment: He seized hold of the girl's left shoulder with his teeth and dragged her down from the altar.  With that rapid backing motion I had seen him employ before, he dragged her quickly before us toward the north, whence he had come, to my right.

Gasp Moment: The report of a gunshot filled the air and Larry staggered, a dark blot appearing and spreading high upon his left shoulder.  The vicar held a smoking revolver, pointed in his direction.

Lily really liked the Count, I think, in part, because she's on a vampire kick. She doesn't otherwise like villain protagonists. 

She was worried when the vicar attacked the Count, though confused about the mechanism.
     "Dirt from one of your own caskets," the vicar replied, "mixed with pieces of my church's altar stone relic, left over from more papish times.  Fingerbone of St. Hilarian, according to the records. 
Lily: What's he talking about?
Me: You'll see. Listen to the end of what he's saying.
 You require your consecrated soil, but overconsecration is like the difference between a therapeutic and a debilitating dose of strychnine.  Do you not agree?"
I do love that line, because it seems so characteristically Zelaznian, but it's certainly confusing to a little kid (though, she's not the intended audience, so it's hard to fault him for that).

Me: Okay, that's probably no clearer. You know how you'll get sick if you take too much medicine? It's like that. 

Cheer Moment: The Count muttered a reply in a foreign language, as the wolf disappeared with Lynette; and I realized that, from all his talks with Larry, plus his knowledge of drugs, and the samples he had obtained, he had succeeded several days ago in developing his own ideal dosage, and I had just witnessed the Great Detective's greatest disguise yet.  I howled a "Well done!" into the night.  Later, a "Good luck!" came back to me.

Another Cheer Moment: "Pret-ty kit-ty," he repeated.  Then he turned and walked away in the direction whence he had come.
     "Put me down!" she cried.  "I can't leave now!"
     He sat down just beyond the firelight and commenced petting her.

I needed to spell out the deal with Carpe baculum, but she dug it once I did.

Not strictly relevant to this specific readthrough, but a friend suggested the top ten best/worst Zelazny puns and Jack had braced himself. Then his arm moved, hand dipping into the satchel and out, emerging quickly, casting the wine bottle of slitherers into the Gateway, to gunk it up. He grinned at me. "Any port in a storm," he observed. certainly belongs there.

She really appreciated the ending, which I do think was the perfect conclusion to the story: 
    I turned and looked back in time to see the experiment man start down the southern slope, carrying the Count.
     "Hi, cat," I said.  "I'll buy you that drink yet."
     "Hi, dog," she said.  "I think I'll let you."
     Jack and Jill went down the hill.  Gray and I ran after.
Great book and great experience reading it. I wouldn't change a thing about either. Thanks for reading along with me.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

A Day in the Lonesome October-fest, October 30

The continuing account of reading A Night in the Lonesome October with an nine-year-old, out loud and during the day.

October 30

This is a bit of a breather chapter, much like October 28th had been. It's essential, in that it fills a little more of the background and sets up the events that will occur in the climax, but it's not all that engaging when taken on its own.

However, my daughter and I had flown down to visit my mom, who is also reading the book, and we read this chapter together, so it had a certain special meaning for us.  Lily is really getting into it. She says we need a new family rule that we should read ANITLO to anyone born into our extended family on or before that child's ninth birthday. I'll let you know how that works out. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

A Day in the Lonesome October-fest, October 29

The continuing account of reading A Night in the Lonesome October with an nine-year-old, out loud and during the day.

October 29

This is my friend JL’s favorite chapter, and I like it a lot too.

Following lunch at Jill's place, to which Bubo was also invited, having finally acknowledged Graymalk to be a cat of a different category, I took a walk back to the ruin of the Good Doctor's place.
Lily: Heh, Boobie.

The meal had had an almost elegiac quality to it, Jack having asked outright whether she'd consider switching, Jill having admitted to a conflict in her sympathies now, but being determined to play the Game through as she'd started.

I defined elegiac for Lily (something that has the characters of an elegy, like a song or a poem, where you’re remembering something that’s lost or gone. Like an angel or a dog.)

"So it seems someone's killing openers." 
"Rastov was a closer." 
"I think Owen talked him into switching." 
"No, he tried but he didn't succeed." 
"How do you know that?" 
"I used to get into Owen's place through Cheeter's attic hole and listen to them talk. I was there the night before Rastov was killed. They were drinking and quoting everybody from Thomas Paine to Nietzsche at each other, but Rastov didn't switch." 
"Interesting. You sound as if you're still in the Game." 
There came a faint sound from below, just as [Needle] said, "Oh, I am, Get down! Flat!"

Lily was almost entirely disinterested in this revelation, because it was eclipsed by my Linda Enderby voice.
I knew that I was right when I heard the vicar utter an oath. I descended one more step. . . . Then I decided I could risk no more. I pushed myself backward, letting myself fall the rest of the way, recalling things Graymalk had said about always landing on her feet, wishing I'd been born with that ability, trying to achieve it this one time, anyway. . . .

I tried to torque my body in the proper direction, along the long axis, relaxing my legs the while.
Lily: Heh, torque.

She still remembered my definition from the earlier chapter, and for a magical Victorian era talking dog, Snuff sure uses “torque” a lot. For comparison, the word “October” only appears 35 times, and 32 of those are chapter titles or the name of the book itself.

Snuff says “I like being a watchdog better than what I was before he summoned me and gave me this job” and what he was before Jack summoned him was a high school physics teacher.
The bolt passed well above me, from the sound I heard of it striking wood. But the man was already cranking the weapon again as I hit the ground. I did land on my feet, but they went out from under me immediately. As I struggled to rise, I saw him finish cocking the thing, now ignoring the black form which darted before him. My left hind leg hurt. I pushed myself upright, anyway, and turned. He had the quarrel in one hand and was moving to fit it into place. I had to rush him, to try knocking him over before he succeeded and got off another shot. I knew that it was going to be close. . . .

And then there was a shadow in the doorway at his back.

"Why, Vicar Roberts, whatever are you doing with that archaic weapon?" came the wonderfully controlled falsetto of the Great Detective in his Linda Enderby guise.
Some people are good at voices. I have no particular talent in that arena, but there is one voice I can do consistently. It’s a warbling falsetto, if Julia Child were playing the role of Mrs. Doubtfire. It’s great. Lily thinks it’s hilarious. I used it for Linda Enderby, and added to what was already a great chapter.

The vicar hesitated, then turned.

"Madam," he said, "I was about to perform a community service by dispatching a vicious brute which even now is preparing to attack us."

I began wagging my tail immediately and put on my idiot slobbering hound expression, tongue hanging out and all.

"That hardly seems a vicious beast to me," the voice of the lady stated, as the Great Detective moved in quickly, passing between the vicar and myself to effectively block a shot. "That's just old Snuff. Everybody knows Snuff. Not a mean bone in his body. Good Snuff! Good dog!"

The old hand-on-head business followed, patting. I responded as if it were the greatest invention since free lunch.

This whole thing had Lily giggling hysterically.

"Whatever made you think him antisocial?"

"Madam, that was the creature that almost tore my ear off."

"I am certain you must be mistaken, sir. I cannot conceive of this animal as behaving aggressively, except possibly in self-defense."

The vicar's face was quite red and his shoulders looked very tense. For a moment I thought he might actually try angling in a shot at me, anyhow.

"I really feel," the Linda voice went on, "that if you have any complaints concerning the animal you ought to take them up with his owner first before embarking on a drastic action that might well draw the attention of the Humane Society and not rest well with the parishioners." 
"That man is a godless jackanapes . . ." he began, but then his shoulders slumped. "Perhaps, however, I acted hastily. As you say, the parishioners might view it askance, not knowing the full measure of my complaints. Yes. Very well." He lowered the weapon and released its tension. "This will be settled," he said then, "in another day or two. But for now I accept your counsel and will do nothing rash." He put away the quarrel in a case slung over his shoulder, slinging the weapon, also, moments later. "And so, madam, I thank you again for those cookies you brought by, which I found quite tasty, and I bid you a good day."

"I trust your daughter enjoyed them as well?"

"Indeed she did. We both thank you."

This is another great part. The Great Detective catches the vicar in a lie, which he attempts to cover, but the Great Detective knows.  He didn't share those cookies at all! The vicar is outstanding as a villain, so big and so small in all the right ways.
"Snuff, I know more about him than he realizes, and I have experimented with many sorts of drugs myself over the years. I know that his intent is to rescue Lynette on the night of the ceremony, but I do not believe that he has sufficiently refined the dosage which he feels will carry him past the moon madness of his affliction. And whatever the case, Vicar Roberts is aware that there is one of his sort involved, and he has melted down a piece of the rectory silverware to cast a bullet for a pistol he will be carrying with him that night."
Lily gasped softly and her eyes got wide. Kids, in general, are kind of annoying, and mine is no exception, but it’s really been a lot of fun reading this story with her because of moments like these.